Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One composer's response to an earthquake

A massive earthquake hit Lisbon, Portugal, on November 1st, 1755, killing tens of thousands of people. One intriguing "side effect" of the earthquake was the response of Georg Philipp Telemann, who composed a cantata, Die Donner-Ode, in commemoration. It was performed in Hamburg the following October, and proved such a success that Telemann added a second part a few years later. Whereas people like Voltaire used the Lisbon earthquake as evidence against a loving God, Telemann's cantata adapts a couple of psalms and offers a different view, one that would hardly have comforted a survivor of the earthquake. It's nowhere on the Pat Robertson scale of offensiveness, but still, it's pretty harsh - God smashes stuff up because he can, basically, and he needs the attention. The epitome of this idea - and also the musical highlight! - comes in the duet for two basses that closes Part I (hear it, in Richard Hickox's recording for Chandos, on YouTube).
He thunders that He may be glorified.
Give thanks in His temple!
From the temple to the ends of the world
shall sound the long, loud song of praise.

(The photo shows the rebuilt Lisbon, 254 years later)

No comments: